Thursday, May 25, 2023

Bedroll Bella: Geordie raver

Bedroll Bella by Sid Waddell (Sphere, 1973) is the story of a feisty, foul mouthed, hard drinking, 'right raver' and proud Geordie 'lass' who runs away from home in search of teenage kicks. She falls in with a bunch of 'bedrollers', itinerant hippies who drink, fight, screw and sleep rough in the ruins of Scarborough Castle by night and shoplift by day (carrying around their rolled up bedding - hence the name). Published in the youthsploitation publishing boom, it sits alongside the works of Richard Allen and Mick Norman in depicting a world of 'knockers', 'birds' and 'having it off' in alleyways and pub car parks; a world of casual violence, with scraps with Hells Angels and rugby club types. The book was apparently barred from the shelves of WH Smith when it came out. Bella is also a poet on the side, composing a sonnet in lipstick on a bathroom window. Like her the author also has higher literary ambitions. Naturally a visit to Whtiby entails a mention of Bram Stoker.

Other than the sexual politics, the thing that jars the early 21st century reader is its industrial background. The backdrop is the shipyards and mines of the north east, presented as being at the heart of local identity. The freaks are not middle class drop outs (as 'hippies' are usually portrayed) but have taken to the road as an alternative to dead end jobs, the dole and stifling conformity: 'She wanted faces and figures with style, animation, excitement.... anything different. There had to be a lifeline somewhere, a raft to sweep her out of boredom and the prospect of the dole'.

Class is at the heart of the novel. Bella, whose dad is a boilermaker, argues with a teacher's comments about greedy strikers: 'them and the miners only get a living wage by striking - and striking hard... So feeding me and my mother and seeing we've got shoes and coal is greed, eh, miss?' .

Spider, the main male character, is the son of a miner (like the author). When he reads in the paper about miners dying in a disaster in Poland, he is consumed with rage: 'The death of a miner is about as important as the death of a worm under a spade. Both are an occupational hazard. Self-pity welled in Spider's breast. How could society expect a pitman's son to be anything other than a dirty, sweaty, scruffy hippy? He had never known anything better. And if he followed his dad into the hole, who would have thanked him? Alf Robens? Ted Heath? Harold Wilson. No, not fucking likely. They were the coal-owners now. They didn't give a monkey's nut. Spider wanted to talk. To get some of the green bile of class hatred of his chest.' He manages this by having sex in a train toilet with the posh 'Weekend Madonna' character, a part time hippy who slums it at the weekend and then returns home in the week.

In a key section of the book Bella and co. head to the Yorkshire Folk, Blues & Jazz Festival, a real event held at Krumlin near Halifax in August 1970, reputed to have been hit by some of the worst weather even seen at a British festival. Before the rain comes down, Bella has that festival epiphany feeling:  'Bella was tripping out. She had never felt so entirely conjoined with society before. She was part of the primeval soup, and Spider was the umbilical cord stringing her to this wild, wondrous world. Being part of it was quintessence. It was not a case of wanting the kicks of drugs, music or men. It was deeper, more heady, wine, the scene was feeding her. This was the pure juice of the fruit. She was on her way to Heaven, and by Christ she was gonna be moved... Bella wanted to cry. For the first time in her life she knew why sparks like Wordsworth and Chaucer and even that maniac Swinburne, who she'd had to study for O levels, had written poetry. It was all here on the grass, naked and pulsating. The Daffodils, the Pardoners and Summoners and even the Hound of Heaven... The pale, streaked bleached look of the moorland sky and turf was enhanced by the gear the kids wore. Vests and stained blue jeans, Army surplus anoraks, nothing that quite fitted. Clothes had to hang, so that the loose slim bodies could flow along as freely as their hair swung... To be alive was very heaven'.

Bella eventually flees the freak lifestyle to return to the bosom of the close if restrictive working class community, symbolised by her first act on coming back to the city: putting on her black and white scarf and going to watch Newcastle United beat Leeds. 

I believe this was Waddell's only novel, though he went on to find fame as a TV sports commentator, his name being synonymous with coverage of darts in Britain up until his death in 2012. His politics remained intact until the end - asked in 2007 to imagine 'If you'd been present as a commentator when Maggie Thatcher left No 10 for the last time, what line of commentary would you have given?' he replied: "Sooo the poor little Iron Lady ends her years of vicious tyranny sobbing in a posh car. She took the kids' milk, made the rich richer and she smashed the coal miners... what a magnificent legacy!"

Friday, May 19, 2023

Milan 1992: Parco Lambro and Prisoners demo


In Summer 1992 I went to Milan with Italian friends who I knew from Brixton to go to a radical gathering/festival in Parco Lambro. The city's largest park has an interesting counter-cultural history, including being the site of Festival del Proletariato Giovanile from 1974-76, a kind of Italian equivalent  of the Isle of Wight festival in that what started off as a planned free festival ended up in clashes and arguments about rip off prices and poor facilities.

Anyway as the poster and programme show, the 1992 event called by 'Coordimento regional antagonista della lombardi' included plans for discussions on prisons, HIV, migration, video, theatre and evening concerts. It was themed 'Percorsi de Liberazione- contro la destra sociale' (Routes of Liberation - against the social Right).  I'm not sure though which of the scheduled events went ahead though as it poured with rain- not great for camping! - and I know some of the music was cancelled.

The main thing I remember is taking part in a demonstration at Milan's San Vittore prison in support of a prisoners' protest that was going on there. A few hundred people went from the park in the rain, charging on to the metro train en masse without paying. We marched around the prison, making lots of noise and on the way back we were charged by the Carabinieri (armed paramilitary riot cops). A few people got battered and a few arrested. There was a lot of a chanting of 'servi, dei servi, dei servi, dei servi' (mocking the police as 'servants of servants of servants of servants') and 'per tutti i comunisti - liberta' (freedom for all the communists) - there were still many people in prison as a result of repression of the movement of the 1970s and early 1980s.

'Per una societa senza galere - i compagni del movimento antagonista' (for a society without prisons - comrades of the antagonist movement) - banner in Parco Lambro, July 1992.  The self designation of the post-autonomia scene as the antagonist movement was a feature of the time.

Above: A report of the demonstration from ECN Milano (European Counter Network), found at the excellent archive grafton9. 'The procession, made up of about 300 comrades, moved from the prison towards the Porta Ticinese district, to end up at the Colonne di S.Lonrenzo, a well-known meeting place for Nazi-skins. The demonstration took place in the pouring rain, but with the determination of the comrades to complete the procession. At the end of the demonstration, while the comrades were preparing to descend into the subway, yet another provocation by the Digos unleashed a violent charge by the carabinieri'. ECN was an international radical information exchange, at this time I was involved in the London ECN group.

I found these photos of the circus tent/marquee at Parco Lambro 1992 online at

Earlier on the year, on 2 May 1992, there had been a concert outside the San Vittore prison with the slogan 'Liberta per tutti is proletari e i comunisti incarcerati' (freedom for all the proletarian and communist prisoners), with bands including AK47, Tequila Bum Bum, Politico's Posse and 99 Posse. Poster from Liberia Anomolia).

HIV Prisoners' Struggles

 The situation in Italian prisons in this period was particularly grim. The so called Jervolino-Vassalli law passed in 1990 criminalised possession of drugs with heavy penalties, in a country where it had previously been legal to have a small amount of any drug if it was for your own use.  The jails were filled with drug users,  many of them HIV positive and receiving totally inadequate health care. Just to make matters worse some emergency 'antimafia' laws had just been passed which made it harder for all the prisoners to get parole , have visitors etc.   Prisoners were staging hunger strikes and other protests. 

In Padova people around the radical radio station Radio Sherwood launched a project in support of prisoners, Radio Evasione, included a regular show focused on prisoners in the Due Palazzi prison. I was working in HIV in London at the time and wrote about it in Mainliners |(HIV/drugs magazine). I also visited Radio Sherwood and took them some info about HIV treatments  (basically copied a loads of stuff from the UK National AIDS Manual).

Letter from a HIV+ prisoner:
From 'Mainliners', January 1922 - full issue here

Radio Evasione zine, Padova, June 1992
(I have uploaded full issue to internet archive here)

Also from 1992 - an intifada mural at a social centre in San Dona di Piave, Veneto

 99 Posse 'Rigurgito antifascista' features the 'servi dei servi' line

Friday, May 12, 2023

Some Brixton Nights - 1994/95

A few flyers and memories from my many nights out in Brixton, 1994/95:

The Duke of Edinbugh on Ferndale Road SW9, with its large garden, was often the starting point for a Saturday night as it was here that we would gather to find out where parties were happening and then head off afterwards to some bus garage in Hackney or wherever. In the age before mobile phones this involved people running down to the phone box and calling a free party phone line where they would leave a message saying where to go.  Sometimes there was dancing in the pub itself too - this flyer for a 'Warmin' Up Mix' with 'deep underground house and garage' from DJs Zeki Lin, Igor and Brian.


There were loads of club nights at the Fridge on Brixton Hill at this time - gay club Love Muscle and various trance nights (Return to Source etc.) as that emerged as a separate sub genre. X-ClaimNation Co-op was I believe a split away from Megatripolis, the Thursday night psychedelic/techno/trance club held at Heaven. Not sure they lasted too long in that form but I went to the opening night at the Fridge at the end of May 1995. Like Megatripolis the music was supplemented with stalls offering massage, face painting, smart drinks etc. Bit too much flute playing for my taste at the time, but hey.

Club 414 at Coldharbour Lane was a longstanding Brixton nightspot, run I think by Louise Barron and Tony Pommell from the 1980s through to 2019. Nuclear Free Zone was associated with the Liberator DJs so very London acid techno sound, that club night itself was still going  15 years later (2009).   This flyer is from November 1994, 'future-techno-trance' from Liberators, Cloggi, Phidget etc.

Chris Liberator and Cloggi again at this Rub Harder night along with Chiba City Sound System, a December 1994 benefit for Crisis at Christmas. Venue was Taco Joe's, a two-roomed railway arch (no.15) on Atlantic Road. This was a great little venue, basically a Mexican restaurant that turned into a club until it lost its licence. Basement Jaxx started out there, with their first night in October 1994.

Shambhala Sound System also put on nights at Taco Joe's, this one in January 1995

The former dole office on Coldharbour Lane closed in 1992 and was soon squatted for parties. The original crew who occupied it were evicted but then it was resquatted by the Cooltan collective. Think this party was in August 1995: 'rave in your face and all over the place with Offshore, Megabitch (all 3 of them), Erase, Medeema, Apple B, Foetal, Ian (disorganisation). Cold taps turned on. Rave on. Hardhouse, techno, jungle'. Unusual for people in this scene to still be using the word 'rave' by this time. 'Cold taps turned on' is a reference to the dubious practice in some commercial clubs of turning off cold water taps in bathrooms so that people had to buy overpriced water from the bar. Bar proceeds were often down as people on other 'refreshments' weren't that interested in drinking alcohol.

See also: